Day 20: Our Railway Track Broke… Veliko Tarnovo / Plovdiv, Bulgaria

We chose to take the train from Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv, against EVERYONE’S recommendation. Even on paper it made sense to take the bus. The bus was faster. The bus was direct. The train was supposed to take an hour longer and we would need to change. Still, we chose to take the train… mainly to avoid me having to take travel sickness tablets for the bus.

The only good thing about taking the train, was that it was cheaper. Because in the end, I still had to get on a bus and we got to our destination six hours late.

Wednesday 18th June 2014
At 10AM the guy behind the desk at Hostel Mostel called us a taxi to the train station. It arrived seconds later and we were on our first leg of the journey without any complications. The taxi driver turned out to be French and was most pleased when we thanked him with a “Merci.”

We arrived at the train station nice and early, like we planned. I was struggling to greet anyone in Bulgarian without spitting on them (zdra-vey-te!) so I didn’t bother. I shuffled up to the counter and started holding fingers up for how many tickets I wanted and to where I wanted to go (Plov-deev!). The counter assistant muttered something to her friend about my lack of “Hello? Alo? Zdra-vey-te? *disappointed head shake*” but printed us the tickets for about 11 BGN each. There was no mention at this point of the train tracks between Veliko Tarnovo and Tulovo (where we were due to change) being broken.

I think she did it on purpose.

Saying goodbye to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

At 11:02AM we got on our train and settled down for a two and half hour journey. A lady checked our tickets and mumbled something to them in Bulgarian, failing to notice our human existence in the car. We realised after the whole ordeal that she was probably telling the tickets to get off the train at Tryavna and get on a bus connection.

At 12.30PM I was awoken by a lady shouting at us in Bulgarian. I showed her the tickets and she stomped off, huffing and shouting “ang-lees-kee” at everyone she came across. A guy on the platform translated for us…

This train is stopping here. The tracks to Tulovo are broken. You must go back one station, to Tryavna, and get a bus. This train leaves to go back in one hour.

Ahhh, crap. So we sat on the train for an hour. Waiting.

At 1.30PM we set off again, back in the direction we came in. Another lady checked our tickets and she was much more pleasant than the first. She said that she would come and collect us when we had to get off. Which she actually did. She marched us to the train guard on the station and told him to get us to Plovdiv. Before her train set off again, she told another three people, to make sure we got on the bus to Plovdiv.

In fact, she screamed it from the door of her moving train.

After about 20 minutes of waiting where they all told us to, we wondered how much longer it would be. I wrote down in Bulgarian (which uses the Cyrillic alphabet) “What time is the bus to Plovdiv?” and Mike showed the train guard. He came back with a rough estimation of 15.59h written on another piece of paper.

Only an hour and a half of waiting on this fly infested bench… cry.

We found a table at the cafe near the station. The girl serving us squeaked out an “Oh no!” when we greeted her in both Bulgarian and English. Out came that Lonely Planet phrase book! We ordered a coffee and Coca Cola. The two easiest things to order.

When we ventured back to the platform at 3.30PM, the train guard came out laughing with another piece of paper. It said 15.59h + 25. I laughed, but I felt myself slowly die inside.

This little book saved our lives

Another hour passed and one of the other recruits told us that we needed to wait at the front of the station as the bus would be leaving soon.

While we were waiting a ticket inspector came over and shrieked “Plov-deev?!” to which we nodded a lot and ended up following her onto the bus that had been sat at the station the whole time we had also been sat there.

When she tried to explain to us in broken English how to get to Plovdiv from here, a nice girl next to us on the bus cut in and said that she could help.

She explained that because the bus is running late we might not make the connecting DIRECT train to Plovdiv from Dubovo (or Garbrovo… or Tulovo? I don’t know what she said). Instead, we had to follow the ticket inspector on to the train to Stara Zagora, get off the train there and get on the train that terminated at Plovdiv.

Thank you so much for your help, you wonderful, lovely person.

So, after a pretty horrendous drive through a million mountains, which was both beautiful and terrifying, we arrived at Dubovo (it was Dubovo) and the train to Stara Zagora was waiting for us. It was the nicest train we had been on yet and we were told off for putting our feet on the seats.

Arriving in Stara Zagora, most people jumped off the train. Everyone seemed to be rushing so I assumed the connection to Plovdiv would be pretty soon or they were making up for our late arrival. How the hell were we going to figure out which platform our train was from?! None of the departures screens were working and none of the desks were open.

A girl with a very perfect up-do rushed past us with her sports bag.

Girl: Plov-deev?

Me: Yes! Da!

Girl: Number 3.

We followed her down the underpass (which wasn’t as pee stained as the underpass in Sighisoara, I might add) and up the stairs of platform 2. Huh? I thought she said 3? OH, of course… The Bulgarian signs make no sense again. Platform 3 is also here.

Lugging our backpacks on to another train we hoped and prayed to the God that we don’t believe in, that we would make it to Plovdiv soon. Just our luck that a massive storm appeared to be brewing over the outskirts of Plovdiv.

And our train stopped right in the middle of it.

Right. In. The. Middle.

FORTY minutes of crashing thunder and fit inducing lightening was endured.

WHY?! I just don’t know. When the storm stopped, we carried on.

Fortunately, this was the last major event of the day. Any more and I think I would have hung myself with my broken bag strap or rain cover (don’t ever buy anything from Trespass. Unless it’s a travel towel. It’s the only thing that hasn’t broken).

We arrived at the hostel at 10PM. We were tired, we were soaked and we just couldn’t face trying to order something satisfying and ending up with tripe soup.

McDonalds was also the closest thing still open that ticked all the boxes.

I guessed that Биг Мак meant Big Mac, so that’s what I went for. The guy serving us made a joke about us feeling like we were at home in a McDonalds. I should have felt shame, but I didn’t. I didn’t care. Give me the god damn Биг Мак. Thank you. Please.

My spirits were lifted and we strolled back to the hostel, full. And then a guy in our last hostel tweeted me. The light show that we had been dying to see for the full five nights we were in Veliko Tarnovo happened that night.

I grumbled my way to sleep, and hoped, that the next day, Plovdiv would make up for such a roller coaster of a day.

Though I spent the whole day wondering what weird little village we might have to find accommodation in for the night, the day could have been a whole lot worse. I want to put a public thank you out there to the amazing people that actually helped us get from A to B. Without you, we surely would have been lost in the back arse of Bulgaria.

Should have taken the bus.

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